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Student comedian into stand-up final that’s broadcast on BBC

University of Bristol PhD student Muhsin Yesilada performing his stand-up.

Press release issued: 3 May 2023

A student stand-up comedian will compete in the final of a comedy competition that will be broadcast on the BBC.

Muhsin Yesilada, who balances comedy with a PhD in psychology at the University of Bristol, has just made it through the semi-finals of this year’s Chortle Student Comedy Award.

The final on July 12 will be hosted by Bristol-born comedian Mark Watson and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Previous winners include Joe Lycett and Phil Wang.

Muhsin started performing regularly in 2021 and now plays four or five shows a week. At just 26, the comic has already performed alongside some of his comedy heroes, including opening for Guz Khan in front of 800 people.

His comedy draws on his experiences growing up in a Muslim household with his British-Turkish family in Hertfordshire.

But getting this far has been far from easy. Muhsin drives hundreds of miles a week – including a recent one-day, 700-mile round trip to Rochdale – and has endured some punishing shows.

Muhsin said: “I still remember my first gig, I was very nervous and couldn’t stop pacing. I thought I was going to forget what I wanted to say, then I did forget what I wanted to say.

“In one early competition I was booed off within a minute and an American woman came up to me afterwards to tell me how bad she thought I was. It gave me a kick-up the backside, and I went back to the same competition and won it.

“A lot of my jokes are about my family experiences, about how living in a Muslim Turkish household goes down, and those cultural differences.

“I think my family find it amusing that they are mentioned my shows. My sister doesn’t like my comedy though, she came to one show and just said ‘I can see why other people would find it funny’.”

Muhsin also has jokes about his PhD research at the University of Bristol, which focusses on misinformation and extremism.

“Doing a PhD has been an invaluable experience,” he explained. “I’ve been able to learn and publish papers and it’s improved my ability to analyse data and critically appraise information. During a PhD you do a lot of presentations and you learn to be concise, pace your speech and grow your vocabulary.

“Studying psychology in particular gives you a good understanding of people, and of yourself. You end up learning about your own nature because you are constantly thinking about human behaviour.

“You get to the point where you realise you aren’t that important and if you have a bad set people probably won’t remember.”

Prof Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol and Muhsin’s PhD supervisor, said: “Good luck to Muhsin in the finals! I’m glad Muhsin is doing applied cognitive science enroute to his PhD - after all, humour requires lots of cognitive skills, from memory and timing to executive processes.”

Muhsin grew up watching comedy on the BBC and is “excited” that his set will be broadcast on July 13, the day after the competition.

To win the competition he will have to beat nine other comedians. He’ll be helped in that task by crowd support from friends and family – including his sister.

Muhsin said: “I want her to come along, she saw me right at the beginning and I want to show her I’ve actually improved!”

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